Federal Court Characterized The Davis Case As The Latest Chapter In A "Decades-long Battle By NYCHA Tenants For A Life Both Dignified And Safe"

A federal court in New York today ruled that the false arrest, unlawful detention and other claims of nine residents and visitors to New York City public housing may proceed to trial. Residents and guests of public housing, on behalf of a class, have sued to stop the NYPD – funded and supported by NYCHA -- from unlawfully stopping, frisking and arresting public housing residents in their own homes.

Judge Shira A. Scheindlin found that the claims raise a Constitutional question of whether the NYPD is "violating the rights of the very residents and guests whom they seek to protect."  The class action plaintiffs include a resident who was arrested while speaking with his girlfriend on a stairwell, and a 16-year-old honor student who was waiting in a building lobby for a friend to escort her to her home in another housing project.

The Legal Aid Society, along with co-counsel the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Paul Weiss, represents a proposed class of thousands of public housing residents and their visitors in Davis et al. v. City of New York et al., 10civ0699 (SAS), who have been subjected to the citywide unconstitutional stop and frisk practices of the NYPD in their apartment buildings, and who have been and continue to be unlawfully arrested for trespass despite being residents or welcome guests. The plaintiffs were subjected to false arrest and unlawful detention, violations of federal housing law, and race discrimination in the targeting of unlawful police practices toward the population of NYCHA buildings, where more than 90% of residents are people of color. In a detailed decision, the court allowed almost all of the plaintiffs’ claims to proceed, stating the “key” question to be decided:

“[A]re defendants acting within constitutional limits in their presumably sincere efforts to provide a safe environment for the residents of public housing? Or, in their zeal to provide that protection, are they violating the rights of the very residents (and guests) whom they seek to protect?”

One plaintiff, stopped and then arrested and held overnight in police custody – missing work and a planned mother’s day visit to his mother as a result -- before his case was dismissed, was simply walking down the stairs to exit a public housing building. The court allowed his claim to proceed, finding the police did not have reasonable suspicion for a stop:

“There is nothing suspicious about a person walking down the stairs of a NYCHA building in a high crime area. There is nothing suspicious about a person stating that he was visiting a friend in a NYCHA building.”

The court also addressed a plaintiff’s arrest by the NYPD relating to NYCHA’s House Rules, which prohibit even residents from “loitering” in public areas of their own buildings. Finding that NYCHA’s signs prohibit an array of “inherently innocent” conduct, the court stated:

“[A] prohibition on ‘loitering’ by a resident is unconstitutionally vague. . . . According to that sign, may two neighbors, meeting each other in the hallway outside their apartments, talk for fifteen minutes about the American League pennant race? Or would doing so subject them to lawful arrest? If it is cold outside, may an elderly woman wait in the lobby of her building for ten minutes while her son hails a cab? Or may she too be punished by up to three months in prison?”

In the 84-page decision, the Court characterized the case as the latest chapter in "decades long battle by NYCHA tenants for a life both dignified and safe."